An easy to grow annual, sunflowers have been cultivated in the United States for over 3000 years. Indians increased the seed size approximately 1,000 percent by repeatedly selecting the largest seeds.
Plant foliage often depreciates as the summer progresses. Removal of browned and tattered plants from the garden after bloom may improve the appearance of the landscape, but is a great disappointment to local bird populations that love to feed on the seeds. If the plants must come down, consider saving the seed heads for feeding the birds in winter.
Sunflowers intermixed with other annuals provide good cover for many species of wildlife. Seeds are sought by many species of wild birds and small mammals like chipmunks and squirrels. Muskrats and deer browse on the plants.
North American Indians grew sunflowers as both a food and medicinal plant with may uses. Today, all parts of the sunflower plant are still used. Sunflower seeds are widely available as food for both humans and animals. Sunflower stalks have been used as fuel, fodder for livestock and food for poultry. The seed hulls are used for “litter” for poultry or returned to the soil or composted. Today, hulls are used in the Soviet Union in manufacturing ethyl alcohol and furfural, in lining plywood, and in growing yeast. The stems have been used as a source of commercial fiber. The Chinese have used this fiber for the manufacturing of fabrics. Other countries are experimenting with the use of fiber in paper. Additionally, yellow dye obtained from the flowers, and a black or dull blue dye from the seeds, were once important in Native American basketry and weaving.
Cultivars / Varieties
Extensive crossing and hybridizing have resulted in a large number of cultivars that greatly expand the range of flower colors and flower head shapes . Dwarf varieties (1-3’ tall) and mammoth varieties (to 15’ tall) are also available.
While pollenless varieties are preferred for cut flowers, varieties with pollen are best for wildlife.
- Ballad – 24″ container, 30″ garden; Pollen free, mildew tolerant. Bright 4″ golden-yellow flowers, broad overlapping petals, dark-disked, shiny green foliage.
- Bert – 14-16″; Pollen free. Large 6″ flowers are intense bright yellow with long, broadly overlapping 2″ petals and chocolate disc about 2″ across. Blooms 8-10 weeks from sowing.
- Big Smile – 12-15″; Tall, bright golden-yellow face, dark-disked. Blooms 50-55 days after sowing. Day length neutral.
- Choco Sun – 8″; Dwarf, branching sunflower for containers. Golden yellow 3″ flowers, chocolate-center & intense, deep-green foliage.
- Firecracker – 24-36″; Dwarf bicolor, single. Mahogany-red, yellow-tipped petals. Dark disked. 4-5″ flowers on branching plants. Pollen free.
- Irish Eyes -18″; Compact, yellow petals, green-disked and branching stems w/ small leaves. Excellent for containers
- Mezzula – 30″; Golden-yellow petals with pollen free brown-centered disk. Excellent cut, but shorter stem than most. Nice hedge plant for garden.
- Pacino Series – 10″ smaller containers, 18″ larger containers; Well branched with lots of buds. Cola (gold w’dark eye), Gold (gold w’ gold eye), and Lemon.
- Paquito Mix – 12″ container, 18″ garden; Basal branching, genetic dwarf, single flowered with a range of colors from brilliant pure yellow to deep mahogany-red. Forms a dome of color spaced at 18″. Both green-disked and dark-disked.
- Premier Lemon – 28-36″; Pollen free, extra early, nonbranching. Bright pure yellow. Good cut flower. Blooms 40-50 days from seed.
- Premier Light Yellow – 28-36″; Pollen free, extra early, nonbranching, light-yellow. Good cut flower. Blooms 40-50 days from seed.
- Premier Orange – 28-36″; Pollen free, extra early, nonbranching plants w’ glowing orange blooms & dark disc. Good cut flower. Blooms 40-50 days from seed.
- SunBuzz – 12″ small container, 20″ large container or garden; Compact pollen free hybrid, branches and reblooms repeatedly for a long season of showy color. Bright yellow overlapping petals. Mid-size dark center.
- Sunny Smile – 6-8″ small container, 18″ large container or garden; Compact, pollen free & day neutral. Golden 4 to 6″ flowers, broad petals, dark-disked.
- SunSpot – 18″; Dwarf habit, giant golden bloom with huge dark disk, for specialty containers & garden.
- Suntastic Series – 8″ container, 12″ garden; Pollen free. Naturally dwarf and early. The most compact variety in trials. 4″ flowers and small leaves. Well branched and floriferous. Yellow with Black Center (2014 All-American Selection Winner) and Yellow with Clear Center.
- Teddy Bear – 16″; Dwarf habit, double golden-yellow flowers. Great for group plantings.
- Black Oil – up to 9.8 feet; used for oil & meal. A popular bird food which may be left in the field for winter bird food. “pie pan-sized seedheads”
- Bohemian Rhapsody – 6 feet; Unique mixture of tall, pollen free, rich bi-colors ranging from red, ivory & gold. Flower size is 4-5″.
- Buttercream – 6 feet; New soft, clean cream yellow color. 7″ pollen-free flowers with smallish dark centers and 2 rows of overlapping petals.
- Cherry Rose – 5 feet; Pollen free. Good cut flower. Flowers 3″, bicolor cherry-red w’ lemon-tipped borders. Flowers in 40 days.
- Claret – 5-6 feet; 4-6″ flowers with thick wine-red petals arranged in several overlapping rows & pollen free disk.
- Cleopatra – 4-5 feet; Flowers 6″ with broad overlapping orange petals 1″ wide, dark center & upright neck. Good cut flower.
- Copper Queen – 6 feet; Pollen-free. Golden yellow dusted with cinnamon sprinkles create an unusually rich orange color. 4-5″. Several rows of broad overlapping petals. Deep mahogany centers. Good cut flower.
- Cutting Gold – 5 feet; Narrow, golden-yellow petals encircle a deep black center. Nonbranching stems.
- Double Delight – 4-5 feet; Large double crested golden orange flowers, 5″ diam. with green disc.
- Double Quick Orange – 5 feet; Double orange, 5″ sunburst, distinctly green-centered. Single stemmed, pollen free. Maturity 65 days.
- Double Sunking – 6 feet; Full double flowers. Good cut flower.
- Earthwalker – 5-6 feet; Brown & terracotta flowers, dark-disked. Open pollinated
- Florenza – 4 ft; 5″ flowers have light yellow petal tips with distinct rusty-red ring. Good cut flower.
- Floristan – 42″; Good side shoots for cutting, yellow tipped mahogany-red petals encircle a dark center. Branching habit.
- Full Sun Improved – 5 feet; Pollen free. Improved for earlier bloom, shorter & stronger stems. Gold petals, dark-disked.
- Golden Hedge – 5 feet; Pollen free, producing numerous lateral stems. Golden-yellow flowers 4″ across in 60 days from sowing.
- Harlequin – 4-6 feet; A blend of pollen free, richly colored bicolor types
- Holiday – 4-5 feet; Classic cut flower, open pollinated, with 6″ golden yellow flowers. Wide mahogany disc surrounded by double row of broad overlapping petals. NOT pollenfree.
- Ikarus – 4 feet; Unique, basal branching type that produces 4-6″ light yellow flowers around dark disks. Good cut flower.
- Infrared – 6 feet; Mix of tall pollen free red shades from mahogany to pastel & bicolor.
- Jade – 4 feet; Pollen free branching type. Good cut-flower or border. Flowers are green-tinged over white base with green-gold disk. 3-4″ blooms in 55 days.
- Jua Series – 3-5 feet; Pollen free. Large 3.2-4.75″ flowers with long vase life. Inca (gold with dark center & faint mahogany ring), Maya (golden yellow with dark center).
- Lemonade – 3.5-4′; Very bright lemon yellow fluffy double 3-4″ flowers in 80 days. High percent for double petals. Good cut flower.
- Luxor Golden – 4-5 feet; Pure bright golden yellow 5″ flowers with broad overlapping petals and 1″, wide, dark disc. Good cut flower.
- Luxor Orange – 4-5 feet; Bright orange 5″ flowers with broad overlapping petals and 1″ wide, dark disc. Good cut flower.
- Magic Orange – 4 feet; Pollen free, single-stemmed. 5″ flowers. Orange with dark center, broad overlapping petals. Good cut flower.
- Mammoth Grey Stripe – 8-12 feet; Displays mammoth sized flowers measuring up to 20″ across with bright-yellow petals, brown-centered, full of tasty seeds.
- Mongolian Giant – 11 feet; Gigantic competition variety. Plant produces large amounts of 1.5″ seeds. Yellow flowers up to 18″ across.
- Orange Mahogany Bicolor – 5 feet; Pollen free 5″ flowers, rich orange, yellow-tipped w’ mahogany-disked center. Single stem. Great cut flower.
- Orange Sun – 5 feet; Good Cut flower, fully double, golden-orange flowers on single stems.
- Peach Passion – 4 feet; Pollen free branching type for cut flower and borders. Unique broad peach petals with green-gold disk. 3-4″ blooms in 55 days. Good cut flower.
- Prado Series – 5 feet; Pollen free, multi-flowering cut flower, dark-centered. Gold color.
- Pro Cut Series – 5 ft; Single stemmed, pollen free, day-neutral. Blooms in 55 days. Black-seeded type less likely eaten by crows in the field. 3 to 4 inch flowers with black centers. Colors: Bi-color, Brilliance, Gold, Lemon, Orange, Orange DMR, Orange Excel (up-facing blooms), Plum, Red, Red & Lemon Bicolor, White Lite and White Nite
- Rouge Royale (Moulin Rouge) – 6 feet; Pollen free branching type. Dark red flowers.
- Royal Flush – 6 feet; Pollen free branching type. Mixed red, red & yellow, Maroon & yellow plus others. 4-5″ blooms in about 60 days. Good cut flower.
- Ruby – 5-6 feet; Pollen free branching type. Deep ruby flowers very attractive for border or cutting.
- Ruby Eclipse (Strawberry Blonde) – 6 feet; Pollen free branching type. Great cut flower. 4″ flowers, ruby-red bicolor, lemon-tipped, sometimes pink & ivory-tipped.
- Sante Fe – 5-5.5 feet; Full double deep golden yellow 4″ flowers. Bushy branching plants. Good cut flower.
- ShockO’Lat – 6 feet; Pollen-free branching hybrid. 4″ flowers, deep-chocolate petals with bright-yellow tips in extra sharp contrast. Good cut flower.
- Solar Power – 5 feet; Pollen free branching type. 8″ flowers are bicolor mahogany orange with broad golden rim in sharp contrast. Dark centers. Great cut flower.
- Solara – 5 feet; Pollen free. Non-branching. 6″ flowers are rich golden-yellow with dark centers. Excellent cut flower.
- Sonja – 42″; 3.5″ unique, tangerine orange flowers with dark disks. ideal for cutting.
- Soraya – 6 feet; All-American Selection Winner. Early flowering, pollen free branching type. Large 4-6″ rich orange flowers with dark disks. Superb cut flower.
- Starburst Greenburst – 4-6 feet; Pollen free branching Starburst type. Golden yellow semi-double petals erupt from center in starburst pattern. An extra ring of small fringe petals surrounds the green center. Great cut flower.
- Starburst Lemon Aura – 4 feet; Pollen free branching type. Pure lemon, 4″ double crested Chrysanthemum flower, green-disked w’ flaring lemon petals in starburst pattern.
- Starburst Panache – 5 feet; Pollen free branching type. Crested double flowers, bright golden petals, Bright-green ring around maroon-disked center. 4-5″ Blooms in 55 days. Good cut flower.
- Summer Breeze – 5 feet; Early, pollen free, single stem specialty cut flower. Large, gorgeous golden-yellow flowers with lime-green disk.
- Sunbright – 5 feet; Great cut flower, pollen free yellow flowers dark-centered, grows vigorously under low temperature conditions.
- Sunbright Supreme – 5 feet; Great cut flower, pollen free yellow flowers, dark-centered, grows vigorously under low temperature conditions, earlier than original Sunbright.
- SunFill Series – 5-6 feet; Pollen free. A thick textured starburst of large pointy sepals radiating from the bud, developing into a 3-4″ calyx. Petals are sparse and late, hidden under the calyx. Good cutflower. Green or Purple.
- Sunrich Series – 3-4 feet; Bright colors, pollen free. Great cut flower, nonbranching, midsize 5-6″ flowers. Early & day-neutral. Gold (green center), Lemon, Lime, and Orange.
- Sunrich Summer Series – 3-4 feet; Bright colors, pollen free cut flower type, nonbranching, midsize 5-6″ flowers. Early & day-neutral. 50-65 days from sowing, 5-10 days earlier than Sunrich. Lemon, Limoncello (vibrant yellow at disk lightening to creamy yellow at tip bicolor petal), Orange and Provence.
- Taiyo – 5 feet; Single stemmed. Good cut flower. Overlapping golden yellow petals and dark centers. Flowers 4-5″ borne on strong single stems. Open pollinated. NOT pollen-free.
- The Joker– 6 feet; Semi-double crested 4″ flowers in 55 days, bicolor mahogany-red, broad gold-tipped, dark-disked. Pollen free. Branching habit.
- Tiffany – 4 feet; Pollen free great cut flower with short golden-orange petals, dark-disked.
- Titan – 12 feet; Extra tall with giant golden flowers & large dark-disked seed heads. Largest seeded of all.
- Tosca – 4 feet; Pollen free, single-stem type. Broad overlapping golden-orange petals on 4-5 ” flowers in 55 days. Great cut flower.
- Valentine – 5 feet; Early, lemon-yellow flowers with black centers are a stunning contrast. Good cut flower. Basal branching, long stems.
- Velvet Queen – 5 feet; Dark velvety crimson is very distinct & attractive.
- Vincent Series – 5-6 feet; Pollen-free & day-neutral. Flowers in 8-10 weeks. Broad, nicely rounded petals are strongly overlapping, giving the flower a semi-double look. Great cut flower. Vincent’s Choice (deep orange petals & brown centers), Vincent’s Choice Deep Orange DMR, Vincent’s Fresh (golden petals & crisp green centers).
Annual Sunflower – USDA Plant Fact Sheet
Helianthus anuus – Missouri Botanical Garden
Specialty Cut Flowers by Armitage & Laushman
The Easy Cut-Flower Garden by Lisa Mason Ziegler
The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski
Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein
Recommended for Wildlife by
Bees, Bugs & Blooms – A pollinator trial – Penn State
For the Birds, Butterflies & Hummingbirds: Creating Inviting Habitats – Virginia Extension
Butterflies of Maryland: A biological summary and checklist by Maryland DNR